Eating fresh, healthy produce in the dead of winter may not seem possible at first thought. This is a season where very little fresh summer produce is available or at its peak. However, the winter season is just the time to find nutrient dense root vegetables.
Root vegetables may be intimidating; most of them have thick, strange looking skin and long stems with thick leaves sprouting out of them. They may give the impression that they aren’t any good since they are thick, hearty and some even earthy or bitter-tasting. But don’t be too quick to write these hearty guys off.
This guide to root vegetables will help reintroduce formerly intimidating vegetables, as food to embrace and nourish the body. Root veggies are not only amazing for your health, but they are versatile in the kitchen and absolutely delicious when prepared properly.
Roots are some of the most nutrient-dense vegetables in the world. While each root contains its own set of health benefits, they share many of the same characteristics. Yams, beets, parsnips, turnips, rutabagas, carrots, yuca, kohlrabi, onions, garlic, celery root (or celeriac), horseradish, daikon, turmeric, jicama, Jerusalem artichokes, radishes, and ginger are all considered roots.
Root vegetables grow underground, which allows them to absorb a significant amount of nutrients from the soil. They are packed full of antioxidants, Vitamins A, C and B-complex, and iron. These nutrients will help grow and repair cells, skin, hair, body tissue and muscles. They help carry blood and oxygen to your brain and entire body, energizing you. They will help protect against cancer, strengthen your immune system, aid digestion, improve eyesight, aid in energy metabolism and more. They are also filled with slow-burning carbohydrates and fiber, which help you feel full, regulate your blood sugar and improve digestion.
Most root vegetables are available year round, but their peak season is fall through spring, with the exception of beets, which are best summer through fall. When in-season, roots have a deeper, sweeter flavor and tend to be juicier, but they are one of those plants that seem to stay consistently great all year long.
Selecting good root vegetables is different than selecting good fruit–-the harder, the better. They should be smooth and free of gashes or bruises. When choosing roots that come with leafy greens (a bunch of beets, for example), make sure the stems and leaves of the greens are firm and bright.
While you certainly don’t need to have a root cellar to purchase and enjoy roots, they are best stored in a cool, dark, humid room. When storing them in the refrigerator, keep roots in a paper or plastic bag in the crisper. Storing them uncovered causes them to soften and go bad quickly.
Types of Roots:
There are so many to choose from!
Sweet Potatoes & Yams // Among the most user-friendly and palatable roots, sweet potatoes and yams are great mashed, pureed and made into soup, roasted, and baked into muffins, cookies, pancakes, smoothies and so much more. They can be used both in sweet and savory applications and are very well-matched with coconut milk, honey, maple syrup, orange, cinnamon, ginger, pecans, cashews, walnuts, raisins, and curry powder. Yams are often confused with sweet potatoes, and although they can be used interchangeably, there is a difference.
Beets // Touted as a superfood, beets are among the healthiest foods on the planet. They’re full of beta-carotene and betalains, which are anti-inflammatory antioxidants. The iron in them helps carry oxygen throughout the body, and they aid in liver detoxification. Beets have an earthy, sweet flavor, and are best when roasted, steamed, or left raw and shredded. Golden beets are typically slightly sweeter than red beets. Citrus (particularly oranges or clementines), blueberries, goat cheese, walnuts, ground cumin, cinnamon, and tahini are excellent compliments for beets.
Parsnips // Parsnips have a cinnamon-y flavor and resemble large white carrots. They are harder than carrots and have a deeper, warm flavor. Parsnips are best used in soups, pureed into a mash, or sliced thinly for a parsnip gratin. Parsnips are complimented by nutmeg, cream, and thyme.
Turnips // While turnips are versatile, they are very subtle in flavor, which makes them great for pairing with more strongly flavored vegetables. They are great roasted, sautéed, or included in vegetable stir-fry. You can also combine turnips with herbs, or use them in tomato-based chunky soups or creamy pureed soups.
Rutabagas // Similar to turnips, rutabagas are subtle in flavor. They are harder than turnips and taste a bit more earthy. Best when pureed or roasted, rutabagas go well with herbs, particularly dill, as well as lime and Indian spices.
Carrots // Crisp and sweet, carrots are perhaps the most popular root vegetable because they are perfect for eating raw. They match well with just about any vegetable in both cooked and raw applications and can be paired with any spice or herb.
Yuca Root // Starchy and subtle in flavor, yuca is often used the same way in cooking as potatoes. It is best when roasted or fried, and it tastes like a potato wedge, although the texture is somewhat stringy. Yuca can be paired with a wide variety of herbs, spices, cheeses, and sauces.
Kohlrabi // Underneath the thick skin and strange tentacles of kohlrabi lies juicy, crisp flesh. Kohlrabi can be cooked or left raw, and it makes delicious oven-baked fries. It can also be made into a mash, pureed into soup, or sliced thinly and added to salads. Combine kohlrabi with any of your favorite spices and herbs.
Ginger // Similar to beets, ginger is a powerhouse root due to its natural antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, and detoxification properties. With a sweet, spicy, yet creamy flavor, ginger can be used in a large variety of foods and drinks. Ginger is most often used in ethnic food alongside coconut milk and a variety of vegetables, but its uses are virtually endless. If you feel a cold coming on, try making a ginger-kale juice for an immunity and anti-microbial boost.
Onion & Garlic // There is debate as to whether or not onions and garlic are true root vegetables because they are bulbs and do not grow as deep as most of the other roots. Onions and garlic are widely used in cooking, as they add a great deal of flavor to any dish, both raw and cooked. Both are considered to be heart-healthy veggies, increase circulation. Garlic also has anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial properties and is great for fighting illnesses.
Roots can be prepared every which way. Experiment and discover what your favorite cooking methods and flavor profiles are!
Raw // Because root vegetables are hard and have an earthy flavor, they are most palatable when cooked. For those who prefer leaving their vegetables raw, carrots, beets, radishes, and jicama are good choices for slicing thinly or grating and tossing with dressing and/or other vegetables and fruit.
Steamed/Boiled // Steaming or boiling root vegetables is a great way of prepping them in order to mash or puree them. Mashed celery root or yams make healthful replacements for mashed potatoes, and any root can blended up into a creamy root soup.
Roasted // Roasting any type of vegetable cultivates flavor and texture. Chop up your favorite vegetables, drizzle them with olive oil, sprinkle them with spices, and roast them in the oven. You can also thinly slice roots, lay them on a baking sheet, and roast them into root chips.
Sautéed // Making a vegetable sauté or stir-fry is a great way of preparing root vegetables. This is a relatively quick and easy cooking method, and all sorts of flavors can be added to the dish. When cooking with other types of vegetables besides roots, sauté the roots first, as they take longer to cook than other vegetables.
Grilled // Roots can be peeled, thinly sliced, brushed with oil, and grilled along with other summer vegetables. This adds a smoky flavor into the roots and softens their earthiness.